Gil Selinger has performed in Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, Tonic, the Knitting Factory, and other venues throughout New York and the world. And like most cellists, most listeners have no idea who he is. This despite a multifaceted background that includes classical music performances, "SoundPainting with conductor Walter Thompson, and collaborations with Marilyn Crispell, Archie Shepp, and Satoshi Takeishi. Selinger plays with a confident and determined tone on the cello, which is well documented on 4/4 Tet
, subtitled "Original Compositions for Cello Quartet."
These seven original compositions are performed singlehandedly by Selinger and multitracked to represent a quartet of cellos played simultaneously (two other originals are performed solo). 4/4 Tet
can at times be a captivating listen. At its his peak, Selinger creates dramatic arcs that carry the listener along, as on "Oxegynqt. Opening with mutitracked cellos playing long tones that tug and pull at one another in different directions, he creates a sense of tension that builds and releases as different tracks take the fore and dispel the other cellos to the background or bring them along to complement the lead. His sound is robust and you can hear his 19th Century instrument resonating beautifully as he picks, scrapes, and melds the bow with its strings.
Referring to his process as "Classical Improvisation, Selinger tends to untapped fields of classical methodology and the improvisational nature of other musical realms, such as jazz. The results are decidedly classical in nature, but they fall in the vein of the modern style, rather than Classical or Romantic modes. He is no Erik Friedlander, either; rather, he is a classical musician who is trying to bridge to the music without actually performing it per se.
This all becomes clear on pieces like "Klarqt which, along with the album, is dedicated to a wedding couple. Here Selinger borrows liberally from various traditional wedding themes and reconstitutes them with dramatic classical improvisation. Tethered by these reference points, he builds melodies that harmonize with one another, until the other cello tracks give way to a single repeating figure, ultimately leading back into familiar territories and improvisations based on them. This is not sappy, tired music. Rather it is heartfelt and embracing, marking one of the numerous highlights of 4/4 Tet
There are hiccups in other improvisations, however. At various points Selinger sounds a bit lost in when layering these quartets track by track. However, those are usually only momentary lapses that can be disregarded when absorbed as part of the whole. In the end, this music fits a variety of contexts. Listeners looking for a challenging yet accessible set of music performed by the enigmatic cello will discover a satisfying set here.